Dubai, The Destination

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And let the wildfire shine
And repeat after me
Good girls go to heaven,
And bad girls go everywhere
..

You’re in love with something bigger than love
You believe in something stronger than trust
Wanderlust
Wanderlust ..
– The Weeknd

Turbulence churned up and my aircraft shook a little to the left. Cabin speakers boomed with mellifluous announcements in fluid Arabic. Almost immediately, my eyelids fluttered open.I stopped the music player on my phone, shook the earbuds off my ear holes and tried to grasp every word of this language of poetry. It fell like music on my ears. Arabic is like drinking the most popular brew of an unknown country. Though it tastes heavenly, ingredients are alien to you . My musings were interrupted by the repetition of the same announcements in a more understandable language. Excited, I slid up the window shades. The last destination of the year,2016 smiled below me. Our flying machine swished past the tallest tower in the World and a thousand twinkling lights shone out from a myriad of high traffic interwoven pathways. I pressed my nose against the window glass and wowed the wondrous city that reposed beneath me – Dubai.

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1 plus 1 free is an evergreen offer. Isn’t it a festivity if this applies to travels?

Place : New Delhi International Airport, India

  • Tickets – Check..√
  • Check In – Check..√
  • Immigration – Check..√
  • Security – Check..√
  • Unwonted flight delays – Sad check  *sobs*

Yes! Sleep deprived yet excited, my crazy family and I have been waiting to board this specific aircraft for a long time now. We arrive decked up in the airport, all set to fly off to Dubai. But, due to foggy weather conditions in Delhi, all we could do now, is sit and wait for our airplane to arrive. My family dozes off. I click weird selfies with their drooling mouths, gulp down endless cups of coffee, traverse the entire length of this airport. After an treacherous 2 and a half hours of delay and after collecting sufficient selfies for local blackmail, I wake my family members up and announce the arrival of the flight. Amidst cheers and excitement, we board the flight. A good 4 hours and a few minutes later, we enter our transit country, Oman. We have a connecting flight to Dubai from Muscat, the capital of Oman. Now, my wander lusted sentiments asseverate that, the best views of a gulf country is what you catch on your descent. Flying right above a blue ocean, when you look out the window, you can spot snow white sea gulls and frothy waves. Calm and clear, a sheath of water stands beautifully, glaring back at the scorching sun. Muscat from the top looks full of rotund buildings. Although small, it sits pretty, surrounded by hills on one side and ocean on the other. We touched down the Muscat airport in the later few minutes. All seems well before the real bomb drops on us. We have missed our connecting flight to Dubai due to the delay in Delhi airport and the next flight they can arrange is after 10 long hours. Bad news and sad expressions follow. The Oman airways, though, has different plans. Following the airways policy, they issue a transit visa with a validity of 48 hours and put us up in a hotel for the duration of wait period. All the dismay vanish as we clamber on the bus happily, dreaming of new adventures. En route, we witness the crux of beautiful Muscat. Two words – Pretty and clean.  Being an Islamic city, it houses a lot of beautiful mosques, all standing tall with dazzling minarets, designed by perhaps, some of the most renowned in their profession. Dates are a prominent sighting. Whether its on the Palm trees lining up the roads or at the hotel as a welcome snacks. We are also welcomed with a local drink at the hotel. The drink tasted like a concoction of water, ground cardamom and cloves.In a jiffy, we freshen up and are on the streets of Muscat. Local market in Muscat is lined with small shops selling gorgeous Persian rugs, Moroccan crockery and fresh local produce. Looks like a page out of Arabian nights, but with a dash of modernization. Curved roads lead upto hills at a distance, which seem to call me but time check restricts my aspirations.

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This was a serendipitous encounter indeed. After all, who wouldn’t love to explore a new city, have lovely food and get the name of a new country inked on your passport, with absolutely no money from your own pocket? We are Indian and we proudly welcome anything that’s labelled free. Most of my family members were making an international travel debut with this trip. This 1-1 free episode and a bonus stamp on their passport got them so thrilled, they literally moon-walked on their way to the next flight to Dubai. Obviously, I couldn’t help joining!

In Dubai, we don’t wait for things to happen. We make them happen.

– N.N. Shaikh M.A. Makhtoum

Dubai is magical. Especially, at night. When the city lights twinkle out, you cannot just help falling in love with it. Okay, I am not including the traffic, of course. Traffic is deadly. Nearly, as bad as any metropolis in India. But considering the cracks-in-the-moon proverb, Dubai traffic can be easily ignored. Let me tell you, Dubai is lovely. Surrounded by water on one side and pretty, huge yachts tread on it, an ideal ideogram of royalty. One evening ride up on one of those yacht and you will know what I am talking about.I witnessed one of the most enchanting visuals of the city while trying to keep my balance on the Arabian waters, aboard a luxury yacht.

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Dubai is Royal. What with gold clad minarets studded with swarvoski crystals hanging like grapes from the grand chandeliers at the grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi. When you can’t pluck those crystals,you are bound to remember of the fox and grapes story here.

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Dubai is filthy rich! You don’t see stunning, man made, palm shaped islands everyday. Dotted with palatial villas that have private beaches in full swagger. That Burj Al Arab, the only luxury hotel with 7 stars in its kit, stands tall with its distinctive sail shaped silhouette looking down at us like a bad-ass princess, whispering slyly, ‘Come, touch me, you poor, poor people’. And All you could do is gawk at its beauty and wish you were rich, I mean really rich. Damn!

IMG_5224Dubai is a miracle. Can you believe a garden brimming with blooming flowers in the middle of a desert? Not that, I am a flower fan but your eyes can’t get enough of delicate twigs and shrubs laden down with bright, colorful flowers. Limited Edition! Available only in Miracle Garden where gleaming gold can take a back seat. I am all eyes for these desert-water-fed bloomers. Say people, who have been to this miracle of a garden. Please treat your eyes and thank me later.

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Dubai is fashion paradise. Dubai is all D’s – Designer’s Dream Date. Ranging from Chloe to Zara, from Jimmy Choo to Ralph Lauren, the Dubai Mall boasts of housing some of the world’s best and most expensive fashion brands. My mind obviously switched off the thinking mode, as soon as I stepped in and I went on a shopping spree until my credit card screamed ‘maxed out’ at one of these stores.Needless to say, I had to make do with just a handful of pennies and a day full of advice for the rest of my journey. Care for a piece of advice from an experienced? Get in there only at the start of a month.

Every country has a unique law to itself. UAE has many. Read on to find out what s UAE’s Beggar BARTER System.

When seekers from India travel, we are all eyes for anything that fits into ‘Spot the differences between India and the new country’ section. Unsurprisingly, we sought out for two definite and most common sightings in India. Stray animals in traffic and Beggars. We definitely could not spot any stray animal on streets except for a multitude of sea gulls on the lawns sprawled beside the roads, which made just a fine sight. But Beggars, Well, we did not stop looking out for them. Do not just judge me yet! One fine evening, after we were done with wandering the planned places (and the unplanned as well!), we stopped for dinner at an Afghan restaurant (Mind it! They are a non vegetarian’s paradise). As we were about to get down, a somewhat destitute Arabic resident, clad in his traditional white robe came closer to the car and handed my dad a string of beads. Generally, Muslims use this string of beads to keep a track of number of times they recite out holy verses. He started speaking in fluent Arabic and we were obviously clueless what to make out of it. Our friend, the one on the driver’s seat, seemed familiar with this routine and asked us to pay him a few dhirams (UAE currency). We followed his words. After the impoverished soul thanked us and left, our friend explained that the UAE government has this specific barter like system made for the poor. Basically, begging is banned. If you are really needy, you need to hand over something to others and they can give you some money in return, which is the amount they wish to give. This way,everyone has to toil and earn so they can exchange their small treasures for something more pricey, from the ones, who are of a better stature. Wow! Innovative and impressive. Isn’t it?.

Can travels ever end without a mention of food? Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious. – UAE

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If you ever happen to visit Dubai, make sure you find a relative there. If you don’t have one, well, then plan to make(or fake) one. Because, you will miss out on a lot, if you don’t. And most important part of that ‘lot’ is food. Dubai ranks A1 in hospitality. Says an experienced, who had tons of relatives in Dubai (all real). Stay-cation, hotels and restaurant food sound amazing but what actually feels amazing is a table laden with absolutely finger licking food with familiar, smiling faces urging you to take more. The thick and creamy hummus, the mayonnaise dripping shawarma roll, the traditional chicken biryani, anonymous yet drool worthy kebabs are to say the least of what I used to see in the traditional Arab Dawats. The warmest part of the whole thing are the wonderful hosts, who literally push you on the table to fill your plates as soon as it gets empty. Well, you might have guessed where we placed our chairs? I am not complaining!

“I love meeting new people. I think everyone has a story to tell. We should all listen sometimes” – Kim Smith

Place : On the way to Abu Dhabi from Dubai, amidst the golden sands of the dry desert.

I am looking out through the tinted glass windows of the Land Cruiser. I make faces at the driver but he smiles and drives on. I make a last attempt to coax him into lowering the glasses. He warns me that the desert winds have a tendency to snatch something from the person who tries to enjoy them. That fact could not deter my desire to feel the foreign air on my face. So, eventually, he gives in. He presses a magic button on the rear end and the shades glide down and stop half way. I turn to my right to face the window. As soon as I feel the gush of wind on my face, my sunglasses fall off my head and go back flying on the road. Before I could ask him to stop the car, a speeding Ferrari crushes it off, while I watch, my mouth agape. The driver shuts the windows and laughs. I look at the speedometer. Freaking 120! Upset and not daring to make another wish in this strange land, I sit quietly, while others try not to sound too obvious about cracking banter on my silly attempt. The kind driver senses my condition and suggests I listen to some Arabic music on his phone. I borrow the phone and touch his screen to open his music player. My eyes fall on the picture of a swanky yacht. In a matter of pure jest, I inquire if he worked for a rich Arab before. He smiles and declares, “Its mine”. Ears spike up, attention shifts from me to him in a second and raised eyebrows shoot unspoken questions on him. This cabby is yacht owner? High End, luxury yachts are mostly claimed by the segment of the affluent and upscale. Before we could verbalize our thoughts, he showed us a picture of a beautiful girl and introduced her as his fiancee. Since, he had been driving us the last few days, we had gelled up extremely well. Amidst loud congratulations, we demanded to put her on call, so we can extend the wishes to her. But, he sadly denied. I looked at him. His eyes grew sad. I could sniff a story in the neighborhood. What is her connection with this luxury yacht?

“No matter how long it takes, true love is always worth the wait” – Anonymous

Place : A remote village in Pakistan

A girl and a boy, from an affluent joint family grow up together.They spend most of their waking moments together. Thus, turn into best of friends. Not long, before they fall in love with each other. Secret love grows into an irrevocable feeling, so much so, that they decide to get married. They seek permission from their respective families. They are confident of the approval, since the alliance is in the same family. They are related by a distant relation in the family. But, as it happens in most of the Asian families, families oppose the relation due to an old family feud. They threaten to break off their ties with them. But, the Lovebirds are too tough to give in and too much in love to care more. They break free and fly off to Dubai. They exchange rings and advance the level of their relation. A month of freedom,perfection and love later, they decide to get married. Just, when they were deciding the date of their wedding, a misfortune entered their life. Regular stomach problems and a check up later, their fate was sealed by a deadly disease. The girl was diagnosed with Stomach Cancer, advanced level. Their world came crashing down. The girl is shifted to the best cancer research institute in UAE. To fund the treatment,the guy sells off his Mustang GT, his property, yacht and every other possession priceless to him. But, Chemotherapy is as much a vice as it is a blessing in guise. Any amount of money goes for a toss, when chemo sets in. Today, he drives around shifts to keep the treatment going, both shifts. When I inquire about the time when he sleeps, he laughs it off and sighs. Their families still continue to give a cold shoulder. But, they don’t care. I guess, true love does not require a crowd for survival. Doctors have clearly called out her chances of survival as slim but he has their wedding attire ready, bright and shiny, just as his hopes for the day she returns hale and hearty.

All of us grow quiet after he finishes off his story. An hour passes by and we stop at a beautiful place. My cousin sister flashes out her smartphone, pulls up her hair and takes a selfie. He smiles and tells me” This is exactly how she takes a selfie after each chemo session.Whenever her body permits. Whenever it is not surrounded by a mesh of IV tubes”. My heart goes out to him. As soon, as we reach the Grand Mosque at Abu Dhabi, I put up my hands and whisper a prayer. No love should go unrequited. But, you know the strangest part of this ordeal? We were with him for 7 long days and if it would not have been for that day, we would never had a whiff of the biggest sorrow in his life. He seemed just as carefree as any normal guy of his age, smiling and kidding around. His life is at its toughest today, and yet he exudes strength. I wonder, how people manage to smile despite facing issues which have had their lives torn apart. I guess, this is the part of my blog where I can take pride in spending my salary on travel. You go places, meet random people who inspire and amaze you with their stories of strength and all you can do is take a part of their essence with you and just bow down to their courage.

“Roads to the most beautiful destinations are always full of curves. Proof – Albert Einstein’s head was full of fuzzy hair.”

– Baba Arshia Khan

Star gazing in the middle of a desert is a romantic dream but do you know what it takes to reach that special spot?

Place : Arabian Desert                                                                                                                                   Time: 6:30 PM

I am in the middle of this desert. But, thats not the point. Point is, how did I reach here?. Picked up in a SUV from home,dropped off at the city limits,picked up by a rickety bus, and again dropped off at the road limits, where a wave of sand stood washing our feet. A few hawks circled above us, high in the air. Just as our scared selves were about to convince us to turn back home, out jumped 5 dapper Land Rovers from the depth of the desert, showering heavy spray of sand all along. Its quite a sight, you know. Just to see these majestic beasts trample the gravel ruthlessly marking their territories in the thick sand is like watching John Cena enter the ring. (You remember the back track? Goosebumps!). Couple of us popped into one of the beasts and then what followed was a 15 minute screechy, screamy, topsy-turvy ride, right into the middle of this desert. What waited for us were an array of traditional Bedouin style of camps, with mattress and smoking joints attached to each. What followed later was the traditional Arabic dinner buffet, some lovely belly dance and wisps of Sheesha . But, I want to skip all of that and tell you about the most beautiful part of it. Out in the warm sand, away from the camps, the noise and people.

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Gallons of light brown sand surrounded me. Shaped into small peaks and hills, all over. The sun had turned into a fiery orange, reddening the clouds looming beside it. There was not one soul in sight. Watching the sun go down in a desert is amazing. The sight is like a picture postcard. It gave me chills to think that there can be parts in the desert, certainly untouched and unexplored by human foot. Thoughts clouded my mind and one certain moment, it suddenly seemed to go blank. Void. I sat there thinking about life, work, family. But nothing fit in my thoughts. The hum of wind around me grew quieter. There was nothing but peace, there in that vast desert. It was like a cleansing ritual in action. Sometimes, life tires you out so much that you need some moments to yourself, of silence and peace, to realize your luck, rejuvenate your conscience and ultimately be thankful for this wonderful life. Its strange when deepest thoughts evolve from the loneliest places on earth.

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My trip was ending. I looked around and made sure to stuff everything in my mind, just so I could rewind the memories and live them all. But the greatest takeaway of this journey remained right in front of my eyes. My family looked happy. They seemed to enjoy a private joke. The sound of their laughter was like music. Music I don’t want to forget. As, the sun went down handing over the job of lighting up the night to the stars, I raised my hands in prayer and thanked God for the little treasures of life.

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And for people who are still in doubt on their vacation destination,need I write a part-2 to tell you how fast you should pack your bags and fly to this royal land? And pull along a few crazy family members along with you. They will make sure you get the best vibes in the world. 2 words. GO, GO!

Last Warning from an experienced : Winters will make you feel royal while summers can make your blood boil.Just Saying!

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